Category: News and Events

Blog author: jballor
posted by on Monday, September 17, 2007

It’s perhaps serendipitous that I’m beginning to read Gertrude Himmelfarb’s The De-Moralization of Society: From Victorian Virtues to Modern Values on the same day that the first Values Voter Debate is going to be held in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.

You might think of the so-called V2 debate as an answer to Jim Wallis’ Presidential Forum on Faith, Values, and Poverty, which featured leading Democratic presidential candidates (although Wallis’ promotional materials promised a similar event including Republican candidates, such a forum has yet to materialize. The V2 organizers also say that all Democratic candidates have refused a similar event).

It would be easy to focus on the many differences between the two events, not least of which is the fact that the high-profile Democratic contenders were eager to attend the CNN-sponsored Sojourners event, while the leading GOP candidates are not participating in the V2 debate.

But instead let’s focus on what is similar, and it’s the only word that’s shared in the two titles: “Values.” Here’s what Himmelfarb says about the shift from the language of virtues to values,

“Values” brought with it the assumptions that all moral ideas are subjective and relative, that they are mere customs and conventions, that they have a purely instrumental, utilitarian purpose, and that they are peculiar to specific individuals and societies. (And, in the current intellectual climate, to specific classes, races, and sexes.)

So long as morality was couched in the language of “virtue,” it had a firm, resolute character…. But for a particular people at a particular time, the word “virtue” carried with it a sense of gravity and authority, as “values” does not.

Himmelfarb traces the genesis of “values” language into the modern context through influence of Nietzsche and Max Weber. The rest of the book explores the consequences of this shift, and I look forward to reading it.

We might quibble with Himmelfarb about particular details, but I think it’s pretty indisputable that there has been a shift in moral claims. She writes,

It was not until the present century that morality became so thoroughly relativized and subjectified that virtues ceased to be “virtues” and became “values.” This transmutation is the great philosophical revolution of modernity, no less momentous than the earlier revolt of the “Moderns” against the “Ancients”–modern science and learning against classical philosophy.

Now whether or not such moral relativism is an entirely novel phenomenon in human history, or merely whether this is its first major and successful foray into Western civilization, I think Himmelfarb’s basic point stands.

It will be interesting to see how political debates like the one tonight and over the course of the next year bear out her distinction between “values” and “virtues.” I suspect that we’ll see far more of the former than the latter.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, September 12, 2007
U.S. Marines pray over a fallen soldier

“Foxhole conversions are not real Christian conversions,” and, “It is virtually impossible for Christians to serve in the military and remain faithful.” These are the words of a professor I experienced in seminary. It always seemed odd to me a professor at a Wesleyan – Arminian seminary wanted to keep people outside of saving grace. But quotes like these can be attributed to a fear in associating religion with the affairs of state. In addition, it is also the belief that the mixing of any form of national service and faith is entirely corrupt.

There have been several high profile publications of late that have dealt with spirituality on the battlefield. Many books and articles have dealt with faith and heroics, spiritual revivals, and spiritual warfare on the front. Faith of the American Soldier, by Stephen Mansfield, and A Table in The Presence, by Lt. Cary Cash, are two that immediately come to mind. But spiritual themes are also covered in the saltier and more profane, Generation Kill, authored by Evan Wright, which chronicled the initial invasion into Iraq by Marines. Religious revivals and accounts of war of course are not new. Spiritual revival heavily influenced many of the soldiers in the Union and Confederate Army during the American Civil War.

W. Thomas Smith Jr. has a piece for National Review Online titled “God Bless and Semper Fi”. Smith says in the piece:

As I’ve said before: though some members of Congress might cavalierly suggest U.S. soldiers and Marines are “cold-blooded killers,” the very nature of their work — something few Americans fully grasp — demands they be some of the world’s most moral men if they are going to be effective at what they do. That doesn’t mean soldiers are perfect. But it does mean many of them have been forced to face God in a way most of us have not, and it’s often reflected in their characters and unconscious behavior.

Second: Combat soldiers and Marines prayed openly and unashamedly, as did their officers. Not all of them mind you, but a noticeable number. Even the ones who cursed, pardon the cliché and the reference, like sailors.

The next quote may make sense for those who have lived in the Middle East. Having lived in Cairo myself, what the author says is plausible:

I’m convinced this openly expressed spirituality is one of the reasons Army and Marine officers seem to be making greater headway in terms of ground-zero diplomacy with sheiks and tribal elders than the rank-and-file civilian diplomats. The Iraqis simply trust American soldiers, their word, and their sincerity, because of their spirituality.

Oftentimes the caricatures of the mixing of faith and nationalism are entirely overblown. The view by some in the religious left and other camps, that some U.S. soldiers think of themselves as modern day Christian Crusaders fighting the War on Terror in Iraq and Afghanistan is in fact grossly exaggerated. U.S. military chaplains are extremely mindful of Church and state roles, which can be more complex in a military setting, than say a local church. I remember covering an event held by the far left Institute on Progressive Christianity for The Institute on Religion and Democracy. During this conference a participant expressed the belief that the Pentagon was forming its foreign policy from the book of Revelation. In fairness to the IPC, their speaker downplayed the belief Pentagon officials were using rapture and apocalyptic teachings as a guide. A link to the IRD article can be found here.

When my brother was serving in Iraq, a Marine from his unit was awarded the Silver Star for his combat leadership. As a reservist, Dennis Woullard was also a an associate Baptist Minister on the Mississippi Gulf Coast at the time. I wrote him a letter, telling him I was praying for him and was proud of the unit. Woullard wrote back, downplaying his own heroics and praising the men who served under him. It was the typical response from a U.S. Marine.

For Marines and other service men and women, faith is so often an integral part of the psychology and survival of combat. Making sense of violence, evil, and death is magnified on the battlefield. It was Confederate General Robert E. Lee, when recalling the battle of Fredericksburg, who declared, “It is well that war is so terrible – otherwise we would grow too fond of it.”

For the next few days, Ray Nothstine and I will be attending the Maranatha Christian Writers’ Conference in Muskegon, MI. As there’s something of interest to pass along and occasion permits, we’ll keep PowerBlog readers updated throughout the week.

There’s some excellent background on the thirty year history of the conference in this last weekend’s Grand Rapids Press, “Area woman’s passion became ministry.”

Blog author: jspalink
posted by on Thursday, September 6, 2007

The Acton Institute has just refreshed its online look. Go to www.acton.org to see our completely redesigned Website. All of your favorite content is still available but it should now be easier to find and keep track of. Here is a short list of improvements that you may note:

  • Updated navigation: We now use a horizontal drop-menu system along the top of the website to make finding the content you want a little bit easier.
  • Now@Acton: Find the most current content right at the top of the Web page. No need to scroll down the page to find out what else is there – simply click a headline to see a summary and decide whether you want to see more!
  • New BookShoppe: Although this has been available for a while, if you haven’t checked it out yet, it will be worth your while! We feature immediate and secure credit card transactions and will even offer suggestions for other books you might be interested in.
  • Better Media Integration: Following the trends and technology available on the Internet, Acton is making more media content available through integration with YouTube, Viddler, and online audio playback.
  • Acton Notes: You can now read the content of Acton’s monthly newsletter, Acton Notes, online. Visit the Acton Notes Web page.

We hope that you enjoy the look of the Acton Institute. Leave feedback on the site here – do you like it or hate it? What would you like to see changed? Are there some things that are hard to find or are we missing content somewhere? Let us know!

Darkness and light have been used to symbolize powerful metaphors in literature, art, film, and all sorts of creative venues. In Scripture, darkness and light are often used to evoke good and evil. In the 9th chapter of John’s Gospel, Jesus heals a man born blind, who furthermore is brought into the fullness of light through faith in Christ. Jesus, however, implicates the Pharisees, by saying, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin; but now that you claim you can see, your guilt remains.”

Joseph Puder tags a most appropriate title for his column in FrontPage Magazine, calling it Europe’s Heart of Darkness. Puder invokes enlightening contrasts as well, comparing historical and contemporary Europe, with that of the United States. Puder notes:

The origin of these attitudes can be traced to the social, economic and political developments on the Continent on one hand, and the legacy of the pilgrims, who came to America in search of freedom, individualism, and God, on the other hand. Europe began to lose its faith in Christianity and God following the French Revolution.

Europe it seems, has bought into Voltaire’s reasoning, and although the Europeans have accepted democracy, they have replaced the notion of the Voltaire’s “absolutist ruler” with the rule of the (welfare) State, and substituted “fundamentalist secularism” for Christianity and God.

Early American pilgrims from Europe, by way of contrast, sought to escape the stifling chains of European absolutism. They wanted to live according to their own conscience and beliefs and not by the dictate of an absolutist Monarch or church. The pilgrims understood the message of Saint Thomas Aquinas who believed that human beings have a natural capacity to know many things without divine intervention as opposed to the absolutist monarchs and the church that thought of themselves as being the repository of knowledge and truth. The pilgrims were also individualists who understood that in order to be virtuous and free of sin, they had to be free to choose, and choices included of course the sphere of economics, as well as religion.

The French Revolution ushered in the age of totalitarianism in Europe. Not content with controlling the political and economic lives of their subjects, the absolutist rulers sought to control their minds as well. The twentieth century saw the rise of Communism and Fascism (and Nazism) that culminated with the horrors of the Holocaust being committed on European soil by European absolutist totalitarians. F.A. Hayek, in his book “The Road to Serfdom,” pointed to the close ideological connection between Socialists and Fascists. He noted, they have more in common with each other than either have with classical liberalism, including the tendency to reduce the individual to an organic part of the state.

Joseph Conrad, in his novel “Heart of Darkness,” portrays the darkness of hypocrisy and moral decay of the colonial adventurers in the Belgian Congo. Conrad specifically mentions the “whited sepulchre” of the various corporate enterprises headquarted in Brussels, Belgium. It is an analogy taken right from Matthew’s Gospel, where Christ himself says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.” Conrad’s novel serves as a reminder of the corruption of absolute power, and the depravity of mankind.

Whether it is the belief in the supremacy of the state, or other types of utopian ideals and philosophies, they are fundamentally in error, because they cannot check or contain the weight of human sinfulness. In contrast, Christianity at its foundation believes all humans are created in the image of God. In truth, a strong religious understanding and spirit recognizes the need to reflect God, it is there where more human progress is found than all the programs, nation-states, and freedom imitators combined.

Blog author: rnothstine
posted by on Wednesday, September 5, 2007

The Acton Institute’s 2007 Samaritan Award winner for outstanding private, voluntary charitable service has been awarded to the Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches, Inc. Their mission statement reads, “To address, remedy, and prevent child abuse and neglect by creating safe, healthy, and permanent homes for children.” One of the outstanding aspects of the program is their belief in not abandoning those who participate in their program just because they reach a certain age. Participants are allowed to stay involved and seek guidance beyond their post-secondary education, and until they’re able to foster their own independence in their lives. It strongly promotes a belief that the leaders and supporters of the ranch believe in them beyond any conditions or variables.

Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches and other Samaritan honorees were also featured in a special double issue of World Magazine titled “Profiles in Effective Compassion.” Intake counselor Suzi Williams noted, “Our program is so small compared to the sins of the world.” World Magazine also noted, “Only 5 percent of the Ranch’s operational support comes from government sources.” An excellent informative and promotional video is also available on the Ranch’s Web site. Check out the World Magazine issue (subscription required) for complete coverage of Arkansas Sheriffs’ Youth Ranches and the Samaritan honorees.

Blog author: abradley
posted by on Wednesday, September 5, 2007

d. james kennedy.jpg

From WPBF:

FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. — A pioneering megachurch pastor and prominent Christian broadcaster has died in Fort Lauderdale.

The Rev. D. James Kennedy died early Wednesday morning at his home due to complications from cardiac arrest in December. The 76-year-old Kennedy had not been seen publicly since then; his retirement was announced on Aug. 26.

Kennedy took the Coral Ridge Presbyterian Church in Fort Lauderdale from a congregation of 45 in 1959 to a megachurch of nearly 10,000 members today.

[Ed. Note: More information is at the Washington Post, Coral Ridge Ministries, and a memorial site.]

Blog author: jcouretas
posted by on Wednesday, September 5, 2007

Bilal Sambur, Ph.D., is assistant professor on the faculty of divinity at Suleyman Demirel University in Isparta, Turkey. He is a guest scholar this summer at the Acton Institute.

Islam, Democracy and Turkey

By Bilal Sambur

The inauguration of Abdullah Gul as Turkey’s new president has provoked a great deal of discussion — and anxiety — about the rise to power of a man who is an observant Muslim with a background in Islamic politics. Instead of anxiety, the world should be celebrating Gul’s election as the greatest breakthrough in the history of Turkish democracy and a sign of hope for Muslim nations all over the world.

In July elections, Gul’s Justice and Development Party (AKP in Turkey) won 47 percent of the popular vote and came to power without having to form a coalition. But the main message to the military and secular elites who have run Turkey for so long was not about religion. It was about reforming Turkey’s government.

Today, the biggest problem in the Muslim world is the absence of liberal democracy. Unfortunately, with the exception of Turkey, there is no true democratic rule in the Muslim world at the present time. Most Muslim countries are ruled by militarist dictatorships, kings, monarchs and totalitarian regimes. Under these anti-democratic and illiberal regimes, Muslim people have no opportunity to participate in the political life of their countries.

After the collapse of Soviet Union, a number of former communist countries established democracy rapidly and successfully. Although some former communist regimes have been transformed into democracies, the Muslim world has not been influenced by this new wave of democracy. The anti-democratic regimes of the Muslim world have successfully isolated themselves from this third wave of democracy. And everything seems to be the same as it used to be in Muslim world.

Liberal democracy has taken root in many places outside its birthplace in Europe and the United States. India is the best example of that. Although India has Hindu culture, it is the most populous democratic country in the world now. Having a liberal democratic rule or a totalitarian/autocratic regime is a matter of choice. But Muslim societies have not, for the most part, been given an opportunity to choose between a liberal democratic rule and anti-democratic regime. Recent developments in Turkey show that Muslim people choose democracy when they have a chance to choose it. (more…)

While lifeguarding during the summer of my college years, I remember an attractive young woman who worked with me who complained she could not meet any guys at her school, The University of Notre Dame. I inquired further, figuring it to be the beginning of a punch line to a joke. She noted the problem as being young male students, and their over-interest in video games. Maybe you have seen the bumper stickers which declare, “It is never too late to have a happy childhood.” Diana West, a Washington Times columnist, just released her new book, Death of the Grown-up: How America’s Arrested Development is Bringing Down Western Civilization.

In an interview with FrontPage Magazine, West discusses some of her ideas about the perpetual adolescent but shifts into the subject of the War on Terror. West herself notes in the interview with FrontPage:

The extent to which social and cultural distinctions between children and adults–who dress the same, all say “cool,” and even watch cartoons–had disappeared. I began to realize I was witnessing at a personal level the same displays of perpetual adolescence in reluctant adults around me (“I’m too young to be called ‘mister’ “) that I was observing in society at large.

But then it hit me: The death of the grown-up was quite suddenly much more than a theory to explain a largely academic culture war; it applied directly and, I thought, most urgently to what had shockingly become a real culture war between the West and Islam–a civilizational struggle that our society doesn’t want to acknowledge precisely, I argue, because of society’s extremely immature, in fact, downright childish, nature.

In the interview, West also makes the connection between socialist dogma and adolescent behavior, noting:

In considering the strong links between an increasingly paternalistic nanny state and the death of the grown-up, I found that Tocqueville (of course) had long ago made the connections. He tried to imagine under what conditions despotism could come to the United States. He came up with a vision of the nation characterized, on the one hand, by an “innumerable multitude of men, alike and equal, constantly circling around in pursuit of the petty and banal pleasures with which they glut their souls,” and, on the other, by the “immense protective power” of the state.

Continuing with the Tocqueville portrayal of a possible despotism in America, she says:

“It would resemble parental authority if, fatherlike, it tried to prepare its charges for a man’s life, but, on the contrary, it only tries to keep them in perpetual childhood.” Perhaps the extent to which we, liberals and conservatives alike, have acquiesced to our state’s parental authority shows how far along we, as a culture, have reached Tocqueville’s state of “perpetual childhood.”

West argues that the end of grown-up culture cripples the West’s ability to understand the Islamist threat, and its desire for globalist expansion. She surmises, “The struggle underway between the West and Islam begins and ends in the world of pretend.” She believes political correctness, multicultural, “non-judgmental” beliefs hinder the ability to respond to the threat, and she calls this “bedtime story” belief “absurd.”

It will be left to the reader to determine whether the author is accurate in asserting that behavior and symptoms of the adolescent culture are a threat to the West’s ability to defend itself. In addition, the reader will have to decide if all facets and followers of Islam are inherently dangerous to freedom and Western Civilization, which she seems to imply.

It looks like her publication will be a clear confrontation of clashing ideologies, without the nuances, and usual compromises, allowing readers to take her side or another. On a related note, in seminary I had a couple of professors who railed against ‘Constantinianism,’ and told us to embrace an absolute pacifism. In class I asked another professor what he thought about this and gave an impassioned address about Charles Martel and his victory at the battle of Tours in 732 A.D., which saved Western Europe from an Islamic invasion, thus preserving Christianity. Passionately noting, “not all facets of Christianity dubbed Constantinian is valueless or corrupt.”

Every generation in very general terms seems to think that the generation that follows has lost its way. On a lighter note, I think that living in the Deep South caused me to have a higher respect for elders and a higher esteem for the value of manners. That’s why I resisted the suggestions of some professors who said we were permitted to use their first names. Incidentally, when I first moved to Mississippi, it took a little while to get use to calling my teachers in high school, “sir or ma’m.”

West certainly believes the baby boom culture and its multicultural zeal, along with its inability to know or define a shared sense of value has hurt us. At the same time, my brother being a Marine and Iraqi war veteran, has allowed me a greater opportunity to get to know other current combat veterans and their stories. Many of them share a stronger bond with what was dubbed “The Greatest Generation,” embodying a quiet courage and selfless sacrifice. These veterans stand in sharp contrast to the pop culture’s glorification of celebrities, narcissism, and selfishness.

Hunter Baker has a new column at ChristianityToday.com named “Evangelical Minds,” and in it he examines issues of evangelical interest in academics and higher education. Today’s piece quotes me at some length on the question of evangelicals and economics, related to the firing of a professor at Colorado Christian University (scroll down to the final section titled, “Christian Economics?”).

This piece is the third installment of the feature, and you can check out the first two here and here.